By Sandra Long Weaver
Girl Scout Troop Leader Paulette Allen has loved girl scouting most of her life. She enjoyed it as girl, as a parent of Girl Scouts, as an assistant troop leader and as the founding Troop Leader for Troop 539 at Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church.
Now she’s retiring and celebrating her 20th year in scouting. “I began my Girl Scout career as a parent volunteer in 1999,” she said. “I chose to become a leader in 2000 and to work with my youngest daughter’s Junior Girl Scout troop. In September 2003, I volunteered to work with the Senior Girl Scouts, high school girls enrolled in grades 9 through 12.
“Around 2009, I was contacted by our then Regional Executive inquiring if I would like to have my own troop. Thus, Troop 539 was birthed.”
And from that point, the push was on to encourage girls to earn their Gold Awards, the highest award in girl scouting. During her 20 years, 69 girls from Troop 539 have reached that goal. Only 6 percent of the 1.7 million Girl Scouts earn the Gold Award each year. Black girls make up 11 percent of all Girl Scouts. Allen said most of the Black Girl Scouts in Middle Tennessee who earn the Gold Award are from Troop 539.
On June 14, four girls from Troop 539 have received their Gold Award. They are Makayla Beard, Elise Russ, Alisha Ward and Gabrielle Cunningham-Rush. They all had to complete special projects requiring at least 80 hours of work.
All were honor students and very active in extra-curricular activities in high school and are headed to various colleges this fall. The girls and troop leaders share more of their stories at Nashville NABJ Crucial Conversations at nashvillenabj.com.
The girls and their projects are:
Makayla Beard, Troop 539, Service Unit 51 Title of Project: Reading is for Me! Troop Leader: Paulette Allen | Project Advisor: Penny Payne
Makayla created a book library for Bethlehem Centers of Nashville and the Learning Academy to ensure that children living below the poverty level would have easy access to books. She hosted a donation drive asking for donations of 200 books and received over 400, with an additional 100 books to guarantee a fresh rotation of books. She installed two new bookshelves, painted and decorated the space, and designed a sitting area for reading. Makayla’s sevice unit has pledged to maintain the library.
Gabrielle Cunningham-Rush, Troop 539, Service Unit 51, Title of Project: Mariposa Mansion and Pollinators Paradise Troop Leader: Paulette Allen | Project Advisor: John Cassidy
Gabrielle planted a garden and in conjunction with her garden, she made an educational resource book that detailed all of the plants and where they could be found in the garden. The book also featured animals, fun facts, and information on pollinators. To ensure sustainability, Gabrielle designed her garden with a bioswale, designed to concentrate and carry storm water runoff while removing debris and pollution.
Elise Russ, Troop 539, Service Unit 51 Title of Project: Plaque Attack, Troop Leader: Paulette Allen | Project Advisor: Dr. Tara McDuffey
Elise conducted presentations for various audience sizes and age levels on the importance of good oral hygiene. In her presentation, Elise was able to offer dental office tours, informational flyers, and provide fun activities. In an effort to increase the impact of her project, Elise also created dental care packages for the homeless and a website so the information can continue to be shared.
Alisha Ward, Troop 539, Service Unit 51, Title of Project: Silently Stored, Troop Leader: Paulette Allen
Alisha spread awareness about mental health in the African American community. She created a YouTube channel after working with various Black psychologists to understand the different types of mental health disorders and issues. The video included tips and scenarios about how children and parents can navigate open discussions about mental health in their homes. Alisha worked with TED to increase the reach of her project. Her video was uploaded on the TED-Ed site and is accessible for students, educators, and parents.
Every girl who has earned the Gold Award has her name engraved on a plaque displayed in the church.
Allen said by putting in the work on the Gold Award, “the the girls learn leadership and presentation skills, learn how to handle competition and learn how to work with others in group settings.”
She said her 20 years of service to the Girl Scouts “has been a wonderful experience. With the girls coming back to me and thanking me for not giving up on them and the thank you cards are so touching,” she said. She has also received the appreciation and honor pins from the Council for her work.
“Paulette’s work with Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee over the last 20 years is invaluable,” said Agenia Clark, President and CEO of the Girl Scout Council of Middle Tennessee.
“Her dedication and leadership to the girls of Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church has been extraordinary. Our organization has been truly blessed by Paulette’s service and commitment to building girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.”
Allen said she will be there to support Bria Woods, who will become the troop leader. Woods earned her Gold Award 11 years ago and came back after college to work with Troop 539.
Allen said she would instill that into the minds of the Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts that they could earn the Gold Award. “Many of them will tell you today that I am the first one who came up with the statement: Girl Scouts is not just about selling cookies.
Allen said she has met “many wonderful people along this journey, some beautiful girls and their parents who have supported me in pushing their daughters to excel.”
“The Girl Scout Gold Award is equivalent or better yet above the Boy Scout Eagle Award, but we don’t get the recognition as we should, but you have to get it there. I would tell them, never start a job to leave it half finished _ I can’t earn this award for you, I am too old; you have to want to earn it for yourself.”